Traveling long distances via Amtrak can be an adventure, and this trip definitely was, especially the first leg between Houston and Los Angeles. Tropical Storm Charley had dumped so much rain on the Rio Grande Valley that the train station in Del Rio was washed out and inaccessible.
After our Sunset Limited train sat in San Antonio a bit longer than scheduled, and the Texas Eagle finally arrived to meet it, those of us continuing west had to be herded onto motor coaches. There was one for all the Sul Ross State students and others heading back to Alpine, and a few other coaches to take the rest of us to El Paso. A train would be waiting in El Paso to take us across the vast southwestern deserts to LA.
Not far from Palm Springs, we encountered more delays, mostly from yielding the right of way to freight trains. I remember the train sitting motionless on the track for about an hour within sight of a wind farm, the AC system bravely staving off 105-degree heat. Due to the delays, we would have arrived in LA too late to catch the Coast Starlight bound for Seattle. So those of us going north got off the train at Pomona and boarded a coach to Oxnard, where we waited a little longer for the train.
If your keeping score, that's a train to a coach to a train to a coach to a train. Fortunately there were no similar mishaps en route to Seattle, and none on my return trip. I had booked the return trip on the Empire Builder to Chicago and the Eagle to Longview, which requires transferring to a motor coach to get back to Houston. (That's right, civilized world: There is no train directly connecting the 3rd and 4th largest cities in the United States.)
My week in Washington State also provided plenty of adventure, but that's for another time. The true highlight of the trip was that I got a lot of work done on the novel I was writing at the time. Before I boarded the Sunset Limited, I had written maybe three chapters and got stuck; on the trains and coaches to Seattle, I tripled that. While staying at the old hostel near Pike Place Market, I cranked out a few more and did some editing on the first chapters, especially the scenes that took place in Seattle.
I had planned for one of the protagonists in the novel to spend his post-collegiate years living in Seattle and working for Boeing. My own reasons for traveling to Seattle had nothing to do with that, to be quite honest, but exploring the city and the surrounding territory in my rented Chevy made it easier to write descriptively about the atmosphere of the place. The Underground Tour was especially enlightening.
That was the trip that made A Small Town for Its Size possible.
This 2015 visit to Seattle, my fourth, was my friend Kevin's idea. He invited me, and I arranged to be able to make the trip. The book I'm working on now has nothing to do with Seattle, at least not directly. No Amtrak this time: I flew up via Albuquerque on Southwest, and will fly back via DFW. I don't travel by air very often, so every time I do, something changes. My boarding passes were embedded in emails on my smartphone, and I had to learn how to place the QR codes under the scanners just right.
I'm also reminded, every time I fly, how much I have grown to despise air travel, and airports in particular. But that's yet another story.
In addition to my air-travel learning curve, I'm making great progress on The Earthworm That Blows No Trumpet: finding ways to tighten the prose, getting rid of inconsistent POV, putting more sparkle in some of the dialog.
We're staying in a basement apartment attached to a house in East Queen Anne. The place is walking distance from Seattle Center and the Queen Anne Avenue commercial district. Well, it's easy to walk to Seattle Center, a bit more difficult getting back because the house is on this rather steep hill. It amazes me how the big electric buses that serve Queen Anne Hill can stop facing uphill and get going again, especially on wet pavement. (Yes, huge surprise, we've had some rain this week.)
This morning I went grocery shopping on Queen Anne Avenue near Boston Street. This evening I trudged down toward Seattle Center in a drizzle, headed west on Roy Street, and found myself at a coffee bar on Queen Anne, where I ordered a cup of Earl Grey and zipped through another 60 pages of edits, both major and minor. I even shuffled entire chapters around. By next week I should have the manuscript much closer to publication-readiness.
Travel has always been good to me, even when I have encountered difficulties and inconveniences, like getting my wallet lifted by street urchins in Rome. Of all the places I've been fortunate to visit, Seattle has been especially friendly and inspirational. So, Emerald City, I raise a pint of microbrew IPA to you.
(Psst. Hey, Seattle. All those flags and jerseys in Seahawks colors with the number 12 on them? I'm pretty sure you stole that gimmick from Texas A&M. Of course, the Aggies probably stole it from some other team.)